Monday, July 18, 2016

An Untimely Frost

An Untimely Frost (Lily Long Mysteries #1)- Penny Richards
Kensington Books
Release Date: July 26, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: In 1881 Chicago, the idea of a female detective is virtually unheard of. But when famed crime buster Allan Pinkerton opens his agency's doors to a handful of women, one intrepid actress with her own troubled past is driven to defy convention and take on a new and dangerous role. . . Since the age of eleven, when her mother was murdered, the life of the theater is all Lilly Long has known. But after her innocence--and her savings--are taken from her by a seductive scoundrel, Lilly vows to leave the stage, enter the real world, and save others from a similar fate. Following in the footsteps of the country's first female detective, Lilly persuades Allan Pinkerton to take her on.  Lilly's acting skills are a perfect fit for her real-life role as a Pinkerton operative. But her first case is a baptism by fire as she is sent to the small town of Vandalia to solve the mystery of a pastor who disappeared with his family--and the church's funds. When Lilly arrives, she finds the mere mention of the reverend's name provokes enmity or suspicious silence. Lilly begins to uncover Vandalia's sordid secrets. But she'll have to deliver the performance of a lifetime to survive the final act of this drama.

Warning: Potential Spoilers

The first book in a new mystery series, An Untimely Frost introduces us to actress Lily Long.  Tricked by a seductive con artist, Lily decides to leave her adopted family and the world of the theater to make a difference in the "real" world.  A newspaper ad inspires her to apply for a position as a female detective at the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency.  In spite of the hostility of one of her employers and the skepticism of the other, Lily convinces the Pinkertons to hire her.  She is determined to use this opportunity to help other women find justice, and stand up for their rights in a world where men rule and women's voices are rarely heard.  Author Penny Richards does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into this world and making it come alive around us through her descriptions of the cities, trains, and surrounding settings.

I have to admit to as much skepticism as the Pinkertons at the idea that sheltered Lily could become a detective so easily. She receives no training from her employers but gets tossed into her first assignment- whether that was the normal practice or a way to convince her to quit I don't know.  Her first case seems relatively simple: find out where a former pastor and his family have gone and see if they want to sell their abandoned house.  Not surprisingly, no one in town is happy to remember the pastor after he took off in the dead of night with all the church funds.  But Lily encounters far more hostility than she expects and after receiving threats she starts to wonder what else there is to this story.  Lily possesses the two qualities that any amateur detective needs: sheer stubborn will and a suspicious nature.  Even when the case appears to be closed, Lily can't help but feel that there's more to the story- a suspicion that nearly costs her her life.

This is a series that I think will improve over time.  The only character that gets any attempt at depth is Lily, but there is potential for a few minor characters to become more flesh and blood in future books.  The mystery was not too complex (perfect for a first case) but I was left wishing that we'd gotten to see more about the villains.  They were, much like the book as a whole, a little too stereotypical to be truly satisfying.  But Richards' obvious talent for writing, research, and world development will hopefully expand into creating multiple, three dimensional characters and mysteries with more depth to them in future books.  

A decent, though slightly disappointing, start to a new mystery series with definite potential.     

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

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